Shaun Lowthorpe: Did we make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime event?

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Did we make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime event?

Robert Hughes: We did substantially more business than you have listed, but it’s possibly because they put us under Suffolk, because our head office is in Lowestoft.

The whole bidding process isn’t for the faint hearted, that is for sure and it can deter many smaller businesses.

Also, many smaller businesses aren’t aware of how far you have to work in advance of these major projects.

We had lots of meetings with them at Canary Wharf and their concern often was whether you as a business would be there by the time the Games actually happened.

We were in the middle of a recession at that point. Their big concern was that they were appointing contracts, who were not going to be there come the day.

This didn’t help a lot of the smaller businesses and may have skewed things a little.

The other issue when you are bidding is that it’s a very professional process, but they don’t always know what they want.

They have certain principles, which they stood by in this Games, these were green issues. The process was headed up by a Tesco’s director, so you can imagine how aggressive some of the bidding was. But they didn’t always know what they really needed, because this was the first time they had done it and they made some clear beginners’ mistakes, but they were professional enough to listen to advice.

We were able to say to them, rather than buy this equipment, why don’t you rent it from us, and then we can re-use it in Norfolk. As far as they were concerned this was fantastic, because it was zero carbon.

It suddenly changed the whole tendering process, because instead of competing against 15 or 20 companies, we were the only competitor.

Some people were literally just bidding a little bit above cost, thinking ‘I’ll win the contract’, but people lost money by losing commercial sight of what they were trying to achieve.

We didn’t do that. Having won a major contract, we were in a very favourable position will all the subsequent ones.

One of the things we were aware of, and this is certainly one of the big legacies of the Games, was that all the other doors opened.

We won 14 contracts around the Olympics. For instance, NBC took over the whole of the Savoy – they wanted 40 large screen televisions mounted around the hotel.

It was an important gateway. It has allowed us, just the reputational gain that we’re able to install 3,000 items, to win some major contracts.

Jon Cockburn: We had this big contract and we couldn’t tell anybody. It was annoying to say the least, because it was a big contract we could have shouted about – a £7m order. Part of it was produced at our operation in South Shields, but it’s a small operation and they couldn’t cope so we had to set up a massive line to produce these frames in Norwich. It was a missed opportunity, but there was nothing we could do.

Shaun Lowthorpe: Is there a wider ambition question here about the process. Do you think Norfolk businesses were put off?

Jon Cockburn: You needed to put in a lot of resource and I think that would have put off a lot of companies, because it was high maintenance.

Caroline Williams: Dealing with any large contract, whether it’s public or private is quite daunting. And it is the resource and the expertise. A lot of businesses have tried it and got burnt. One of the complaints is that people did sign up and put bids through, but never got any feedback.

Moving on to the legacies, one of the things is on procurement. There are a lot of opportunities which are going to happen in this area, to do with offshore wind, and companies such as EDF Energy all looking at huge supply chain development.

Part of it is to identify who actually did win contracts, that could have some tips. The legacy of the Olympics is to make sure that what didn’t happen, doesn’t happen again when we are looking at the offshore contracts.

We could be sitting here in five or six years’ time saying ‘what a shame we didn’t get the opportunities for some of the contracts that were happening’. If we can learn lessons about dealing with these big organisations from a procurement point of view and also best practice from some of those who did win contracts, now that we can talk about it, that to me would be quite a strong legacy.

Robert Hughes: We now have that dialogue so we will be competing for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, that will be another legacy.

Shaun Lowthorpe: I went to the torch relay, which was fantastic and I thought ‘why can’t we do something like this every year’. Did you get a sense that there was a boost there?

Peter Mitchell: It was a very special day. There was a team put together by City Hall and others trying to dismantle that in advance and work out what components needed to be planned.

It brought huge numbers of people in, it was a great day for trading for business in the city and there are certainly lessons to be learned from that in terms of trying to organise city centre animation type events, which happen at the right time of day, in the right way, spread sufficiently across the city for it to actually work, other than just having a large number of people standing in front of a business, blocking it from doing trade.

I think it’s one of the challenges for the BID, which has very much taken a focus

How do you take that from the measure of success which is just more people coming into the city, to the measure of success being improving the business performance of the businesses in the city, which is the single test of whether the BID works or not.

Laurie Hull: I think certain elements in the city council and the county council now feel that the county can do big events. The torch relay was fantastic, and we’ve got the Tour of Britain.

Another big event is that they are looking at bringing in Iron Man in 2014, which is another large franchise event which brings in a lot of people. There is always a big cost involved and who is going to pick that up, is it the councils or business?

But there is more of an appetite for big events, which can draw people in, on a more sustained basis than just half a day.

Peter Mitchell: Coming back to the point about the feelgood factor. The elephants in Norwich event gave people a big lift and worked very well for businesses because it took people all the way around the city in a structured tour. We’ve got Go Gorillas coming up soon, which will hopefully recreate that.

I think businesses need to trust the fact that if they are getting people into the city and people are enjoying their experience in the city, that’s at least one back on our side of the score sheet, compared to all the things the other way, such as internet shopping and people not driving their cars; things that make it much harder to run city centres as areas of vitality and commercial success.

Shaun Lowthorpe: So, is it logistics which is the lesson?

Laurie Hull: The city team which did the torch have learned a lot and are happy to do it again.

Paul Evans: The organisers of the Great North Run are talking about coming to Norwich and doing some sort of event around this time of the year, which could be a 10km race around the city at night under lights.

Laurie Hull: There are opportunities, but it’s a question of whether there is the appetite of someone saying ‘right we will do it again’ and to grasp it and pull together a team to make it happen, because the skills are there.

Jonathan Denby: Some of it is definitely about planning and logistics. The reason all the transport stuff worked is because there was a huge amount of planning because we had done it over seven years, and it wasn’t just about organising and having the right people in the right place at the right time, although that was important.

There were contract negotiations with leasing companies about changing the whole maintenance schedules for trains to make sure you had all the trains available during that period.

There was alot of infrastructure work that went in at Stratford directly linked to the Olympics.

Projecting a good image of Norfolk is important, but also getting the right people together in advance, it’s amazing what you can do.

There is the opportunity to do some of these bigger events, but the key factor is the planning in advance. If you get all the relevant players together, you can then do some of the things you would wish to do to make it work.

Peter Mitchell: A number of us are trying to find an event which is the next tier down. We are not going to get another torch relay, but we don’t want to end up with a load of small events that sit below the horizon.

So we need to try and think through the annual calendar and have that one year in advance planning.

We know we have got the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, we know we have got the Food Festival, and we are trying to shape and create a Norwich Fashion Week in the first quarter.

We know we have got Christmas and then you have got the Hostry Festival.

When you begin to put that calendar together you start to think of that as a through year calendar. You begin to think that what’s missing is people coming to that Norfolk and Norwich Festival and going away without knowing that three months later there is a Food Festival. That shouldn’t be too difficult to sort, because the average National Trust property could do that – you go away and know what’s happening in the following six months, but as a city we don’t. What we are trying to find a way to do is layer over the top that sense of the city of festivals. Something that gets people to see how these things fit into a calendar. Then, planning ahead becomes really easy and everything just slots in. I think what’s important is that we need to concentrate resources on two or three things that make a difference, rather than having 12 or 15 that just plug the gaps.

Jonathan Denby: Having that calendar both for tourism and key business dates is really important. Because in the past when you’ve tried to go and get it and when you try to plug in, it hasn’t really existed in a very usable form.

David Powles: The Torch Relay surprised me because of the scale of it. It was almost a step back in time. It started with the jubilee, but I think what you saw this year was people wanting to be connected again, and people wanting to feel they were celebrating something as a community. I went to street parties and it was so nice to see people connected.

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